Black History Month Feature: Alice Allison Dunnigan

by Jackson Dowell, WVTV reporter

Alice Allison Dunnigan was a journalist and the first black woman accredited as a White House correspondent as well as the first black female member of the Senate and House of Representatives press galleries. 

Born on April 27, 1906 in Russellville, Kentucky, Dunnigan pursued writing from a young age. She began attending school once a week at age 4 and learned to read before starting first grade. She started writing one-sentence news items for the local Owensboro Enterprise newspaper at age 13 and completed the ten years of education that were available to black people in the segregated Russellville school system. 

Alice Allison Dunnigan stands outside the United States Capitol in 1947.
(photo credit / University of Georgia Press)

While working as a teacher, she realized that her students were unaware of the historical contributions that African-Americans had made in the state of Kentucky, so she began gathering supplemental information to educate them. Though they were collected as a manuscript in 1939, these sheets would be published much later in 1982 as The Fascinating Story of Black Kentuckians: Their Heritage and Tradition.

In 1936, she worked as a freelance writer for the Chicago branch of the Associated Negro Press while taking night courses at Howard University. Dunnigan became the first African-American to gain a congressional press pass, when working full time for the ANP which allowed her to cover news events of the Congress.

This opportunity is significant because this position was limited to most reporters, the public, and especially women and African-Americans.  In her years of covering the White House, she asked questions regarding the civil rights movement and the struggles of black America. She used her voice to challenge and advocate for the issues facing her community.

Dunnigan’s status did not allow her to escape racism. When President Truman took a 15-day train trip to the west coast in 1948, Dunnigan was the first black female journalist to travel on a presidential journey. She paid for this trip by taking out a loan. She remained courageous and kind even as police at some stops on the tour questioned her presence. 

In 1960, Dunnigan left the ANP and worked on Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign for the democratic nomination. She worked for Johnson when he served as vice president and later president in the Johnson administration. After retirement, she wrote her autobiography A Black Woman’s Experience: From Schoolhouse to White House, which was published in 1974. Dunnigan passed away on May 6, 1983 in Washington, D.C.